Tuesday, October 11, 2016
es161011 A unified field theory
Jen Graves is Seattle’s best writer on the visual arts—and she stated one time that her eyeballs guide her in her work. This may be why I never expect her to meet with me. Her intuition that I am not a visual artist is correct. I am one of those who think the arts, like science, conform to a general field of energy that acts on all the senses.
That’s why we have different disciplines in the arts, and in science. To get one’s mind around a general field of art, where a writer, for example, could do well covering ballet, opera, painting, architecture, etc. is too much. The sciences, too, encompass too vast a universe for one person to comprehend.
A person may comprehend the vastness, but in an attempt to express it only a half-vast iteration would come. Einstein succeeded, we are told:
“The Einstein field equations (EFE; also known as "Einstein's equations") are the set of 10 equations in Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity that describes the fundamental interaction of gravitation as a result of space/time being curved by matter and energy.” –Wikipedia
Despite that science and technology in general have brought wealth to and made Seattle and the surrounding region successful, the arts in general have just tagged along. This is partly because the educational and government institutions have not carried the burden of examining its place in a region of this kind.
Historians will point out, sometimes, a connection between the arts and the sciences or technology at turning points in art history. I think of color, for example, and early experiments in air travel. Also medicine, psychology and anthropology.
For as long as she has worked in Seattle (since around 1999?) I thought she might spend a few minutes with me. Those thoughts came when she wrote about Seattle’s art schools, or recent history. However, she never did contact me, and I think—because of her devotion to information that she can see with her eyeballs—she never will.
Why would she? The main channel for her production is The Stranger, the demographic for which is more or less like Jen. She has no interest that I’ve seen in art and technology. Who, in the arts, does, really?
The art and technology events or seminars are weak. A general field theory like Einstein’s is relevant, but the arts have no Einstein. He described the fundamental interaction of gravitation as I would have like to have seen described compared in the interaction of the arts.
That is what I was working on in the 1970s and ‘80s—a kind of general field theory that could be utilized in a university, like the UW, to structure an education program superior to that which was in place. I had in mind making a bridge, interacting creative art students with sciences and technology.
That’s why I found Dennis Evans, Carl Chew, Sherry Markovitz, Norie Sato, Nancy Mee and others so interesting as students and as community artists after they left school. They represented hope that, if I could build a program based on their proofs, as it were—their “10 equations”—then the UW would a place worthy their coming back to for post-graduate work.
By this strategy, the UW Art School would have been more relevant than it was at the time—which was more of a degree mill than a real center for teaching, research, production and service. As it was, it served (as Jen might describe it) the interests of old white men.
My efforts to change this failed miserably, and for three decades I have lived with regret that I failed; and—especially in the US American climate of the past couple of decades—I am losing hope.
On the bright side, however, my former students taught me that the basic tenets of my “general field theory” was correct. So, when I resigned from the UW, I took what they taught me and applied it to my life.
The sad thing is that my education seems to be serving only me and a few people who have occasion to learn what they need from my productions.
Wikipedia says Einstein had a set of 10 equations; I have a set of ten, too, which helps me to explain why some of my former students put their talents to effective use and provided Seattle and other cities with works of art, craft and design worth experiencing.
I made those ten into islands that I call “Domains of Expertise” in my imaginary place, Emeralda.
Thursday, October 6, 2016
ri161006 Why I left
True, I did walk out abruptly when Norie Sato gave a talk at the UW a few years ago. Lynda and I sat near the back but I was ready to enjoy Norie’s speech. She had recently been to China – just one more step in her list of successes spanning about thirty years.
I felt a little uneasy when she gave my name in the first minute of her talk. Not only once, but several times! She was giving me credit for having involved her in video art when she was in graduate school. Strangely, I felt like shrinking down in my chair.
You would think I would stand up and take a bow! My feeling was just the opposite. I felt confused, and as her talk progressed I began to realize a feeling that confusion was actually a sense of renewed grief coming over me. It was if she was holding up a sign – an imaginary sign – to the effect, “See what you accomplished, Bill? Why did you quit?”
She was giving me credit for having been a good teacher. It’s well-known that, especially to the Japanese people, teaching is an honorable profession. She was honoring me. Why did I feel horrible?
The occasion for the speech was that Norie was being given what they called the Bookmark Award (a kind of lifetime achievement). Jerry Anderson, whom I had met in 1969 in Oslo (an old friend of Norman Lundin) had architected the award with the help of Anne Gould Hauberg. Norman was its first recipient.
This month I am writing an article about my 1969 trip to Oslo, because I went there to study with Rolf Nesch, and also I lived briefly at the Munch museum. So, like Norie, I have taken some steps and had comparable success. My article may be published in the California Society of Etchers magazine next year.
The reason I should feel like writing about that time, eight years ago, that I walked out early from Norie’s speech is also because I’m in the middle of restoring a 1980 videotape about Japanese woodcut. The recording is titled,” Kurosaki Prints Again,” and I was asked by an Alabama student to make it available on the web.
Watching myself, as I was in 1980, along with Akira Kurosaki, inspires me to reflect on that night when Lynda and I left immediately when Norie was finished with her presentation. It was abrupt, like an escape.
Several other of my former students with there—for example Dennis Evans and Nancy Mee (who received the award in 2002). They gathered around Norie at the end to give her congratulations; I had a slight feeling like a daze. I just wanted to get out of there.
Was I embarrassed? How could it be that a teacher could be praised by one like Norie Sato, but living today ache anonymously? How did it happen that, in 1980, I was producing videotapes that would be value as long as 36 years later, yet, apparently, totally forgot forgotten by the school where Norie had studied? I was, and I am today, in a quandary—not sure what to do or what to say.
Many times I have thought about that night, and how it must’ve like a slap on her wrist (if indeed, Norie had taken note that I left). Days later, I apologized to her.
Today, some people might say I’m living in the past. Wise men have advised, “Do not be attached to the fruits of your action.” On the other hand, someone said those who forget the past will not have a future worth living and they will be condemned to repeat the mistakes of history.
The truth is, Jerry Anderson, Norman Lundin, and so many of the people I thought of as friends and colleagues at the University of Washington just didn’t get it. Incidentally, I don’t recall Norie giving any other professors credit for her early work. She honored me, and I was pleased immeasurably.
I cannot claim to have given Norie anything more than a nudge toward using some new ideas—like video experiments for art—while she was in graduate school. You will notice, today, that she doesn’t make video art, and seldom does she make prints. That she has found her own way is an understatement.
As to the other “subtitle” I might have used to describe this article, “Why did I leave the University of Washington?”
The answer is self-evident. In the videotapes – there are about 200 of them. – I have the history of my work at the school of extending printmaking from being merely a tangent to painting to being the ancestor of all technologies. I showed that students could take part in both the old world of printmaking and the new worlds that were on the horizon, that printmaking is the portal to new multimedia.
Norie was one of them. Dennis and Nancy, to, were part of that – and it’s all on tape. Sherry, Carl Chew, and a dozen other students who are still working today in the arts all participated.
I left the UW because I was invited to leave by the chairman of the art department in 1985, Richard Arnold. He took me out of the printmaking division—and teaching printmaking was all I wanted to do. He handpicked an individual to put an end to all the work that Glen Alps and I had done over the previous two generations. He directed Curt Labitzke to deconstruct the curriculum so it matched the conventional treatment—printmaking as second-class, bastard of painting.
I was required to spend one more year at the UW following my year-long sabbatical (which I paid for with my family’s property) the conclusions of which the faculty at the art school dismissed. 1984 a hellish year for me. I was so glad to leave. (I’ve always thought how Orwell’s 1984 came true for me.
I am not reliving the past. I am a teacher and an artist, who learned from my best mentors that it is practice that makes permanent. I practiced hard teaching for 19 years. By continuing to practice teaching (even though I was cast out of the institution) and using what I learned in school (ways of using new technologies to keep printmaking vital) I am, today, able to digitize and subtitle a 1980 lesson by one of the world’s foremost woodblock printmakers, Akira Kurosaki, for sharing on the web.
Sure, I walked out of Norie’s reception, and it was because I was forced to leave the UW that it was so unbearably painful to see a demonstration of a successful student give her teacher credit (where she felt it was deserved) and yet that teacher—me—had become a virtual persona non grata.